Southwest – Days 20/21

Southwest USA

Retirement Trip

September 2019

29 Days – 6,500 Miles – 19 States

7 National Parks

Several State Parks – 6,000+ Photos

1 Trillion Insects Squished by Car Windshield

 From 108 Degrees to Snow

From 282 Feet Below Sea Level to 12,000+ Feet

Bison, Elk, Prairie Dogs, Lizards, Wild Horses

Elvis, Aliens, John Wayne Westerns

Walking In The Footsteps of Forrest Gump

And More! 

Grand Junction CO to Loveland CO via Rocky Mountain National Park CO.
Today, we are crossing Colorado and exploring Rocky Mountain National Park just west of Denver.
We will also be visiting relatives in Loveland CO.
Heading east from Grand Junction CO on I-70. 
Following the Colorado River (as we have since Arches NP).
I-70 eastbound near Grand Junction.
Now it’s looking more like the Colorado I envisioned.


Interesting name for a rest area.  Ha!
No Name Rest Area.

As we pull out of the rest area, we enter Glenwood Canyon.
Glenwood Canyon is a rugged and scenic 12.5-mile canyon on the Colorado River.  Its walls climb as high as 1,300 feet above the River.  It is the largest such canyon on the upper Colorado.  The canyon has provided routes for railroads and highways through the region. It was the first gravel road for automobiles through the Colorado Rockies.  Currently, I-70 and the Union Pacific railroad pass through the canyon.
Glenwood Canyon is one of the most scenic features on the California Zephyr passenger railroad line. 
Almost immediately, we are surrounded by high cliffs as we follow the Colorado River through Glenwood Canyon.
There is a section just ahead where the canyon is so narrow, they stacked the interstate westbound over eastbound.
The railroad line is to the right, behind that lower line of trees.
Glenwood Canyon tunnels.   The train also goes through a tunnel just to our right.
It’s hard to imagine how much work it took to blast and drill through solid rock.
Continuing through Glenwood Canyon.  The interstate gets stacked again just ahead.
Read more about the challenges of building I-70 through Glenwood Canyon:

As quickly as it began, the canyon ends and we’re back out in the sunlight.
The Colorado River is to the right.  This is the same water that will eventually flow through the Grand Canyon.
Enjoying the scenery just west of Vail CO.  
Vail, Colorado.  Big ski town! 
More great scenery around Vail CO.
Seeing more trees than we’ve seen in a few weeks. 
Nice to see green forests again after 2 weeks of red rocks and deserts.
Climbing to Vail Pass. 
Vail Pass – Elevation 10,666 feet.
We made it over the pass!  Still heading eastbound on I-70. 
These are the first “fall colors” we saw on the trip. 
Heading east toward Silverthorne CO on I-70. 
Here, we are starting the long climb up to the Eisenhower Tunnel about 60 miles west of Denver.
Suddenly, as we come around a corner, we can see a long line of stopped cars ahead.  Oh, no!
For the next hour and a half, we inched our way at walking speed up the mountain toward the tunnel.
Glad we stopped at that last rest area! 
We had plenty of time to eat lunch in the car as we went up the mountain.
Finally – we’re at the tunnel.  Just about this time, a car next to us erupted in blue smoke.
Looks like maybe they burned up their clutch inching up the mountain.  Glad they got off before going into the tunnel next to us.
Read more about the Eisenhower Tunnel: 
Once we were inside the tunnel, we found out there was an accident 3 miles ahead. 
The traffic crawled along for another hour before finally moving after the accident point.
Glad we weren’t in the accident.  That would have been far worse than being delayed 2 hours.
As we neared Silverthorne CO, it gets more mountainous and rocky.  (Hence the name “Rocky Mountains”??)
We are seeing more and more ski slopes.
6% grade for the next 8 miles – That’s an elevation drop of 2,534 feet.  Up and down and up and down we go!
Starting to see fall colors on the trees – Sept 20th.


About 30 miles west of Denver, we get off the interstate and head north toward Granby

and the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Coming up on the exit for Georgetown.
We stopped at a Visitor Center at Georgetown (see “You Are Here” on the bottom of the map).
Lots of skiing, hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities to do in the area. 
Apparently, the local paramedics have a sense of humor as they try to warn the tourists to be careful.
This T-Shirt says:
Feed the Bears
Squat with your spurs on.
Let your kids ride the elk.
Picnic in Poison Ivy.
Drive fast and pass on curves.
Thank you for your support – Colorado Paramedics
Turning north on Rt 40.  Enough interstate for one day.
Our first town on Rt 40 is Empire. 
Welcome to Empire, where the elevation is about 20X the population. 

Before we left on the trip, I did some online research and found that quite a few people experience altitude sickness when they get above 6,000-7,000 feet elevation.  I was a little concerned, but more reading showed that it usually happens with sudden changes, such as when someone who lives at the beach flies into Denver and goes up to 8,000-10,000 feet and hikes or skis right away. 

The past two weeks, we have spent a lot of time at 5,000-7,000 feet (New Mexico, Grand Canyon, Zion, Mesa Verde) so we have had a good chance to acclimate. Neither of us experienced any problems, but we were careful to not overexert and we stayed hydrated with plenty of Gatorade and water.

Just north of Empire, we passed through Berthoud Pass.  Here, we start the climb.
Near Berthoud Pass.
This is how I always pictured Colorado in my mind. 
The big “U-Turn” ahead marks the start of the steep climb up to Berthoud Pass.
After the “U-Turn”, this is looking south back on where we just came from.
It’s nice they offer wide places to safely pull over and take photos.
Nearing the top of Berthoud Pass.  More zigging and zagging to do first.
Berthoud Pass AWOS (Automated Weather Observation System) is at 12,493 feet elevation on Mine’s Peak.
I bet it’s cold up there in the winter!
We pass into Grand County CO as we summit Berthoud Pass – Elevation 11,306 feet.
Past Berthoud Pass and heading north to Winter Park.
Continuing north on Rt 40 toward Winter Park.
Welcome to Winter Park CO.  Anything and everything to do with skiing.

North of Winter Park, we continued toward Granby and Rocky Mountain National Park.
Nearing Granby CO. 
Welcome to Granby CO.

Just north of Granby is Lake Granby. 
On the north side of Granby, we are quickly approaching the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.  (RMNP)
Nice fall colors.
Approaching the entrance to RMNP.  Look at the fall colors – and it’s only Sept 20!  Beautiful!


We made it! 
The Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915, and covers over 265,000 acres. The headwaters of the Colorado River are located inside the park.  The Civilian Conservation Corps built the road through the park (Trail Ridge Road) in 1930s.  This road is the highest-elevation through road in the US with a peak elevation of 12,183 feet.  The highest peak is Long’s Peak at 14,259 feet.  There is a large variety of zones within the park including rocky alpine tundra, meadows and streams, waterfalls, forests, high-elevation lakes, and more.   
Read more about Rocky Mountain National Park: 

We came up the road at the far left bottom corner, past the two lakes.
From there, we followed Trail Ridge Road clockwise until we came out on the east side (right side of map) at
Beaver Meadows Visitor Center.  After Estes Park, we continued straight east on Rt 34 to Loveland.
Below is a close-up of the upper/middle section, where we spent most of our time.

Close-up of the middle area of the park.  We started at the left and worked our way east to Beaver Meadows and Estes Park.
After passing by some meadows and streams, we reached another “U-Turn” before a steep climb.
As we start the long climb up the mountain, we could see this mountain range off to the west.
“Never Summer Mountains” 

View of the “Never Summer Mountains”

View down into the meadows and streams area we just drove through.
As we pass Farview Curve, we pass a milestone – 2 Miles Above Sea Level. 
Just a little farther up the hill, we came to the Continental Divide at Milner Pass. 
Just past Milner Pass and the Continental Divide, we reached the tree line and could see the top of the mountain.
Panorama from that point.
Beth:  “Watch the road! I’ll read the sign!”   
Me:  “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.”
Flashbacks to Zion Park and the steep drop-offs with no guard rails.
And Beth was not real happy about this one, either.
Me:  “How many times do you think the car would roll over before we reached the bottom of the hill?”
Beth:  “Watch the road!”
Finally, we reach the relative safety of the Alpine Visitor Center.
It’s September, and there is still snow on the ground from LAST winter! 
At the top of the mountain is the Alpine Visitor Center.
Our highest elevation so far – but soon to be moved to 2nd place as we climb the next peak. 
We stopped and got our National Park Passport stamped again! 
Stamp and sticker. 
Good safety tips. 
It was about 15-20 degrees cooler here than down
at the entrance an hour ago.
Panoramic view from behind the Alpine Visitor Center.  That snow on the ridges is still from last year!
Before we continued to the top of the ridge, I walked across the road from the Alpine Visitor Center.
There, you can enjoy the view of the Gore Range and dozens of mountains, most over 12,000 feet elevation.
Panoramic view of Gore Range shown on the sign in the previous photo.
Next, we will be continuing up the ridge to the highest spot on the Trail Ridge Road at 12,183 feet. 
If you look very closely, you can see a car off in the distance at the center of the photo.

As we continue climbing, notice the poles along the road. 
They are there to guide the snowplows when the edge of the road is drifted over.
We don’t want any snowplows rolling down the mountain.
This road is generally closed from mid-October thru Memorial Day.

Almost to the top!   This is the view along the highest ridge. 
I missed the sign (if there was one) but this is the high point of the road.  
(12,183 Feet)
Our next stop was Forest Canyon Overlook. 
This sign describes landmarks in the canyon and surrounding mountains.
Panorama shows the canyon and mountains on the sign in the previous photo. 
Close-up of Hayden Gorge in previous photos.

After enjoying the views from the high ridge, we started our descent toward the east entrance at Beaver Meadows and Estes Park.
As we were coming down the mountain, Beth suddenly said it was snowing. 
Sure enough, there were white specks in the air, but they were melting as soon as they hit the warm windshield.
Just a couple of hours ago, we were in T-shirts.

Just ahead, we saw brake lights going on.  That’s usually a clue there is wildlife nearby.
We spotted a bull elk just to the right above the red pickup.  Can you see him?
I also spotted a place to pull over for photos. 
I got lucky and got several good photos of the bull elk as he fed on the hillside. This was one of my favorite photos of the entire trip.
Reaching lower elevations as we near the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and east entrance.
More fall colors in September!
Welcome to the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, located at the east entrance near Estes Park, Colorado.
We’re back down to 7,880 feet elevation.

The Beaver Meadows Visitor Center was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s company after his death as a memorial to him.
They incorporated many of his principal design elements.

The Beaver Meadows Visitor Center was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s company after his death as a memorial to him.
They incorporated many of his principal design elements.
Another view of the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center.  I do see a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright in this section.


Estes Park, Colorado is a popular tourist destination.  LOTS of shops and restaurants.
We’ll have to save that for another time, as it is already late afternoon and we still have an hour to go.
We don’t want to keep Jean and Lee waiting.  Plus, we were pretty tired by now.
From Estes Park, we headed out Rt 34 toward Loveland.
The road follows the Big Thompson River as it descends over 2,000 feet in the next 25 miles through the narrow
Big Thompson River Canyon. 
For the next 25 miles, we follow the Big Thompson river through the canyon.
It is a steady downhill “coast” as I hardly had to touch the gas pedal at all.
I think you could ride a bicycle the entire 25 miles and never have to pedal.
The Big Thompson River crosses from one side of the road to the other at a few locations.
There were terrible floods here in 1976 and 2013.  The 1976 flood killed 143 people in the canyon as 12 inches of rain fell nearby in 4 hours.
The flood in 2013 destroyed the powerplant at the city of Loveland.
Read more about the canyon and river:  

Mile after mile, the road continues to descend as the river follows alongside next to the steep canyon walls.

Nearing Loveland CO and the end of the Big Thompson River Canyon. 
End of the canyon.  Daylight ahead! 
See the large pipe crossing the road ahead? This is the Big Thompson Siphon, a transmountain water diversion project known as the Colorado-Big Thompson (C-BT) Project.  The C-BT system spans 150 miles from east to west and 65 miles from north to south.  It is one of the largest water diversion projects of its kind (in acres irrigated), second only to California’s Central Valley Project.
Construction of the C-BT began in 1938 and was completed in 1957.  The project diverts water from Colorado’s western slope to the drier eastern slope and plains, delivering an annual average of 220,000 acre-feet of water to 30 cities and towns in northern Colorado to be used for agricultural, municipal, and industrial needs.  Water supplied to reservoir and ditch companies helps irrigate more than 600,000 acres of farmland and augments drinking water supplies for more than a half million people.
Notes from Big Thompson Watershed Forum: 


Mike, Beth, Jean, Lee and Gherkin. 
Gherkin – their friendly and playful French bulldog. 
Jean and Lee have a beautiful back yard surrounded by flowers and gardens.
More backyard flowers.  I think Jean and Beth went out and examined every flower the next morning. 
Jean shared seeds and plants for our garden back in West Virginia.

They also have nice decorations around the front of their home, too.

While Lee and I took our Subaru to the dealer for an oil change and tour of the town,
Jean and Beth enjoyed looking through old cookbooks from years past.
(I’m looking forward to finding some new cookies on the table this Christmas!)

We enjoyed our visit with Jean and Lee (and Gherkin).  Thanks for letting us stay with you!

Tomorrow, we will be heading to North Platte, Nebraska on our way to our old home at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha.

Hope you can join us!   Thanks.

Mileage Today:  340 Miles

Trip Total:   4,779 Miles